One In, Three to Go
In the 16 weeks of the National Women’s Soccer League regular season it has been a battle to claim a playoff position. But in Week 17, the first team has reached the promise land of knockout round playoff soccer. FC Kansas City clinched a playoff berth late Sunday night, leaving only three places available for five playoff eligible teams. Some teams are in better positions than others as only two weeks remain in the regular season. Let’s take a look back at Week 17 of regular season play as well as updated playoff scenarios and some remarks from an NWSL team owner about the 2014 season.
Carli Lloyd: Lloyd had two goals on the week but her second goal of the week may have been one of the biggest goals this season for Western New York’s season. She was the the most attacking player for the Flash on Wednesday evening in their 3-0 win over Washington, tallying nine shots on the evening and a tap-in goal set up off of a loose ball in the box. But her tally against Boston on Saturday evening could very well have ended Boston’s playoff hopes. Off of a cheeky Sarah Huffman back heeled pass, a left footed rocket found the upper-90 in the last 85th minute of the match rescued a massive point for Western New York, after being outplayed by the Breakers during the first hour. The Flash need Lloyd on the field to be successful (6-2-4 with her on the field, 2-2-3 without her) and with her in form for the final stretch, the Flash could be very dangerous in the playoffs.
Katy Freels: This midfielder may be one of the more underrated central midfielders in the league. She has featured in all 20 matches for Sky Blue this season with a goal and five assists, but what doesn’t show up in the box score is her work effort and creativity. Due to some close misses and good goalkeeping, she should have a few more goals this season but her creativity in giving her team chances makes up for it. On Saturday, she carved up Washington’s back line with precision passing to find Monica Ocampo up top, and she set up the game winner for Ocampo in the second half as well. While Sky Blue has been banged up pretty badly this season, Freels has been a bright spot for the team in 2013.
Lauren Holiday-Erika Tymrak Combination: It’s been the 1-2 punch that has clicked for FC Kansas City the entire season. And the Holiday-Tymrak show rolled through Portland on Sunday night and were involved with two of the team’s three goals in the 3-2 win for FCKC. Both goals saw Holiday finish the efforts, giving her 12 goals on the season (which to put that in perspective, Washington Spirit have scored 14 goals as a team this season. And three of those goals were penalty kicks, which Holiday hasn’t taken one this season) but it was Tymrak setting them up. The first goal, she drew defenders in, sent a ball wide to Merritt Mathias who found Holiday back post for the goal. Then in a nice run off the ball in the second half, Tymrak flicks a Melissa Henderson pass over the back line, allowing Holiday to finish the job. One last figure to cap off how important Holiday and Tymrak are offensively for the Blues: Of the 33 goals FCKC have scored, Holiday and Tymrak have combined to score or assist on 28 of the goals.
What They Said
Outlook for the NWSL Season: On Saturday evening, Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler made an appearance on the team’s online broadcast. And what he talked about on the broadcast gave fans a little indication of what is to come for the 2014 season. He first mentioned that there was a league owners meeting in Kansas City during the MLS All-Star week festivities and expressed that everyone was committed and very excited about next season. And when asked the big question about NWSL expansion for next season and years to come, here were some of his comments from the broadcast about expansion:
“We have a number of big plans…(broke off for banter about the PK that Seattle were awarded at that moment)…The league will expand as long as the opportunities are there. The absolute most important thing was to have all eight teams back for next year. We weren’t able to achieve that in the WPS first season, so we expect we are very comfortable to all be back. On the right kinds of expansion, we are trying to balance the geography, add some major markets and make sure it is a quality operator who is in it for the right reasons.”
While this doesn’t really indicate any immediate potential target cities, hearing this means that we should be expecting some more teams for 2014. It took me a bit by surprise to hear this still during the regular season but at the same time, it is good to know that the right actions are being put in place for this process.
The Not So Good
The NWSL Roster Freeze Deadline: Yup, you probably wouldn’t have even noticed that this date happened this week. Usually when you see sports and trade/roster deadlines, a lot of the time those dates get waves of news about trades, free agent pickups and player releases. But on Wednesday, the roster freeze happened with no fireworks. There were three pickups and one amateur call up to the full team. Washington signed Marisa Abegg, former WPS’er, former member of D.C. United Women squad last year in the USL W-League and played this year with the WPSL Gulf Coast Texans. Portland signed Tina Ellertson (a big told-you-so moment in the mind of Portland fans after they drafted her in the supplemental draft) and Sky Blue picked up Ashley Nick, who just won the USL W-League Championship with Pali Blues and was named W-League Championship MVP. Also, Jaime French, former amateur player for FC Kansas City signed on for the rest of the season with the Blues. A couple of those players featured this week though: Abegg started both matches for Washington, aiding a injury plagued back line and Nick came on as a substitute this weekend, playing a half hour and looked fairly solid. But no other major moves regardless.
The Upcoming Week Playoff Implication
As we have done in the past couple of weeks, let’s take a look at the second to last week of the season and how this week’s matches will have an implication on the standings, because a lot can be solidified by the end of this coming weekend. Week 18 will be the busiest week of the NWSL regular season: seven matches will take place and all eight teams will be in action on Saturday, so there’s a lot to take in for Week 18:
1. FC Kansas City (qualified for the playoffs)- 38 points, 2 matches left. Plays Boston on Saturday (Away). After a big win on the road at Portland, a win next Saturday means the Blues will minimally lock up a home game in the semifinals. Maximum points they can finish with this season is 44, which if they do win their last two matches nobody will catch them and will get home field advantage throughout the playoffs. At this point the Breakers might be out of the playoff chase so it will be curious to see what kind of fight they put up against FCKC. Plus FCKC has outscored Boston 5-0 in their previous two matches this season. So I see the Blues taking this one and fly out of Beantown knowing they will have at least one playoff home match.
2. Portland Thorns FC- 34 points, 3 matches left. Plays Boston on Wednesday (Away) and Western New York on Saturday (Away). The Thorns are in this streak of playing five matches in 14 days and are in need of a victory to see them through to the playoffs. After seeing their potential home field advantage slip away on Sunday night against FCKC, redemption against the Breakers (who they recently defeated 2-1 in Boston a few weeks ago) will be what the doctor ordered. Any sort of result however against the Breakers gets the Thorns in the playoffs (or if Chicago drops any points from here on out Portland is in as well), but they can’t ignore the match against the Flash either, who could be hot on their heels if Portland drops points in midweek.
3. Sky Blue FC- 34 points, 2 matches left. Plays Chicago on Saturday (Away). Another ugly 1-0 victory for Sky Blue this past weekend. But they needed those three points in the worst way possible. And now with a chance to A) get another three points on the road and keep pace with Portland and Western New York in the standings B) clinch a playoff berth on Saturday and C) potentially eliminate Chicago from the playoffs, this match on Saturday could be very important for their outlook on the playoffs. Any dropped points in their final two matches and Sky Blue will be surely looking at fourth place.
4. Western New York Flash- 31 points, 3 matches left. Plays Seattle on Wednesday (Home) and Portland on Saturday (Home). Three straight home matches to finish out the season for the Flash is what could potentially propel them into the top two. And with two wins this weekend they can do exactly that. Plus coming off an emotional draw with Boston on Saturday could put them over the hump for withstanding any playoff challenge, though they could grab a playoff spot if Chicago loses on Wednesday as well. It helps that the Flash have been scoring for fun lately, bagging eight goals in their last three matches. That helps the old goal differential bit, in case that plays a part in this season.
5. Chicago Red Stars- 26 points, 3 matches left. Plays Washington on Wednesday (Away) and Sky Blue on Saturday (Home). At this point, all matches for Chicago are must win with the hope that Western New York takes less than four points from their final three matches. Both scenarios won’t be easy to accomplish, as the Red Stars face two playoff teams in their last three matches, but you can’t give up on the Red Stars this season. They have clawed back from some crazy situations and are still standing in Week 18. If they drop points at all this week, the Flash are basically in the playoffs.
6. Boston Breakers- 24 points, 3 matches left. Plays Portland on Wednesday (Home) and FC Kansas City on Saturday (Home). Yup, the Breakers will be kicking themselves for letting Western New York get that late equalizer on Saturday. If Boston won that match, they would be level with Chicago on points, ahead of them on goal differential and only four points back of Western New York and will be playing them in the last game of the season. NOW, they have to win both matches this season and have to hope the Flash lose both to set up a potential last stand for the Breakers (which they would have to win as well). It’s been a tough season for the Breakers, now marred by the sacking of Head Coach Lisa Cole 24 hours before their match on Saturday, but the magic might have worn out for Boston in 2013.
7. Seattle Reign FC (eliminated from playoffs)- 18 points, 3 matches left. Plays Western New York on Wednesday (Away) and Washington on Saturday (Away). Best the Reign can do now is win out, break some hearts and finish a respectable sixth place. Very possible to pass the Breakers for sixth too because right now the Reign aren’t playing with anything to lose with these last three matches, making them dangerous. Especially to the Flash on Wednesday, who they drew 1-1 back in Rochester in June.
8. Washington Spirit (eliminated from playoffs)- 7 points, 3 matches left. Plays Chicago on Wednesday (Home) and Seattle on Saturday (Home). With last place sewn up for the Spirit, the only hurdle they have to overcome is to find a way to get a point and not finish with the worst final team record in USA women’s professional league history (2011 Atlanta Beat, 7 points in 18 matches).
Last Weeks Results
Western New York Flash 3-0 Washington Spirit
Portland Thorns FC 3-1 Sky Blue FC
Chicago Red Stars 3-1 Seattle Reign FC
Boston Breakers 2-2 Western New York Flash
Sky Blue FC 1-0 Washington Spirit
Portland Thorns FC 2-3 FC Kansas City
JJ Duke graduated from Rider University in New Jersey with a degree in Digital Media Studies. While his playing days may have ended back in high school, he still prides himself of being a decent shot-stopper and an all-around fanatic of the beautiful game (fervent supporter of Manchester United and the founder of a Rider supporters group, the 206 Ultras). He is the Student General Manager at 107.7 The Bronc at Rider and has contributed to various local newspaper and Web sites in the Trenton, NJ area of high school and collegiate sports including The Rider News and Fish4Scores.com. He became involved with Our Game Magazine early in 2012 when upon following OGM on Twitter, he was contacted within minutes (which caught him by surprise) by Tiffany about working with the team. After spending the summer covering the USL W-League and the WPSL-Elite league as an intern, he is looking forward to continue working with the OGM team, especially on games in the US.